Prepare For 'Bad Surprises': Uncontrollable Climate Change As Arctic Ice Melts

First Posted: Nov 30, 2016 03:50 AM EST

The effects of global warming on the Arctic is having a cascading effect, with some areas affected much more than the others. Unless the world reduces the production of carbon emissions, irreversible changes in the Arctic could spell disaster for those living there and the rest of the planet, a new study found.

The Arctic's ecosystems are threatened by climate change and other human activities, like burning fossil fuels and gas or oil extraction. Being one of the most vulnerable areas in terms of climate change, the area is now heading for a climate disaster, a new report says.

The Arctic Resilience Report unveils 19 tipping points or regime shifts that can and have occurred in Arctic marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. With the temperatures in the Arctic Ocean reaching nearly 20°C above the seasonal average, the summer sea ice cover has hit record low many times in the past.

"Arctic ecosystems are changing in dramatic ways: the ice is melting, sea levels are rising, coastal areas are eroding, permafrost is thawing, and the areas where plants and animals live are shifting," said the Arctic Resilience Report.

Regime Shifts Might Bring 'Bad Surprises'

Regime shifts threaten the stability and balance of the climate and the ecosystems in the area. However, these shifts may, in turn, have a global effect. The Arctic plays a pivotal role in global climate. Hence, the planet may reach a tipping point where "bad surprises" might occur.

The impacts were poorly understood but would be extensive like typhoons -- so the Earth must brace itself for some surprises. If many regime shifts "reinforces each other," the results could be catastrophic.

"Climate change is severely stressing Arctic livelihoods and people, and the extent to which Arctic people can build resilience to these stresses is quite limited," Miriam Hultric, a lead author of the report, said in a news release by the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

"Without rapid action to slow climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the resilience of the Arctic will be overwhelmed," she added.

What Can Be Done?

The solution, in addition to searching for ways to curb climate change, lies in establishing resilience in the Arctic, the report said. The single most important factor in resilience is the ability of the community to self-organize and respond to the challenges posed by global warming and external influences.

Though the areas in the Arctic like Finland, Russia and Canada are dealing with the challenges, some are adapting better than others.

"Ultimately, realizing resilience in the Arctic will depend on empowering the people of the North to self-organise, define challenges in their own terms, and find their own solutions, knowing that they have the flexibility and external support to implement their plans," the report concluded.

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